Upcoming Event! February 26 @ 7:00 pm

Don’t Miss Our Upcoming Event!

The US and Class War in Venezuela

President Maduro Calling for Peace and Non-Violence

 

Presented by the Censa Forum on the Americas

Wednesday, February 26 @ 7:00 pm

Cafe La Pena, 3105 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley 510-849-2568

 

Author and Activist Roger Burbach along with Zoe Dutka, a journalist live from Venezuela, will discuss the efforts of the right wing opposition and the US to destabilize and topple the government of President Nicolas Maduro. As in the case of Chile under Salvador Allende, the opposition is bent upon sabotaging the economy and carrying out violence to precipitate a coup against a legitimately elected government that won a resounding victory in the municipal elections in December.

Many of the opposition’s supporters are students from private universities while students at the new ‘Bolivarian’ Universities tend to support the government.

 

 


Sponsored by Censa and the Marin Interfaith Task Force on the Americas

The US and the Confrontation in Venezuela

The US and the Confrontation in Venezuela

The US media is almost unanimously propagating the falsehoods that the government of President Nicolas Maduro is using violence against the opposition, that the US government is not trying to promote a coup and that Maduro is destroying the economy by continuing the transition to socialism begun by Hugo Chavez.

Nothing could be further from the truth. An objective analysis of the promotion of violence by the opposition is provided in the article below by Steve Ellner. Regarding a coup the media must be blind if it believes that the US is not backing the opposition to the hilt in its efforts to overthrow Maduro. This is the administration that declares it can use drones to kill anyone it judges to be a terrorist without any due process. And as Edward Snowden’s documents reveal, the US believes it has the right to spy on and intervene in the affairs of countries around the world, including allies.

The economic situation in Venezuela recalls that of Salvador Allende and the Popular Unity government that I witnessed from 1970 to 1973. Richard Nixon ordered the CIA “to make the economy scream.” The destabilization of the economy was a critical factor leading to the military coup.

The opposition in Venezuela is also hell-bent on destroying the economy, using the the capitalist market place to cause speculation, inflation, shortages of commodities and capitalist flight.

What is occurring in Venezuela is a critical battle in the struggle for national sovereignty and twenty-first century socialism. At the fifth annual gathering of the World Social Forum on January 30, 2005 Hugo Chavez declared: “It is necessary to transcend capitalism…through socialism, true socialism with equality and justice.” As part of the roaring crowd of 15,000 at the Gigantinho stadium in Porto Alegre, Brazil, I heard Chavez go on to say: “We have to re-invent socialism. It can’t be the kind of socialism that we saw in the Soviet Union, but it will emerge as we develop new systems that are built on cooperation, not competition.” This is an historic call to confront capitalist-dominated globalization, the mammoth transnational corporations that promote hyper-speculation, the concentration of wealth, perpetual conflict for markets, and the destruction of the environment.

Roger Burbach, Director,

Center for the Study of the Americas,
Berkeley, California

Venezuela: Violence caused by opposition, not government

Friday, February 21, 2014
Opposition protesters in Merida, February 19.

The slant of Venezuela’s private media and the international media on what is happening in Venezuela is clear: The government is responsible for the violence.

In the first place, it is said, government-ordered gunmen are shooting at peaceful demonstrators and the violence generated by the opposition is just a response to the brutality of police and military forces.

But there is considerable evidence that shows the violence, including that of unidentified motorcyclists against demonstrators, is being carried out by the opposition. Consider the following:

1. Violent actions have been carried out by the opposition since the time of the 2002 coup. Theguarimba, which means urban violence (or “foquismo”) was publicly advocated by opposition leaders in 2003-2004 as the only way to prevent the establishment of a “dictatorial regime” in Venezuela.

2. On April 11, 2002, the day late president Hugo Chavez was overthrown, the Venezuelan and international media, and the White House, used juxtaposed images of Chavistas shooting pistols in downtown Caracas, on the one hand, and peaceful anti-government demonstrators, on the other to justify the coup.

However, the Irish-produced documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and other documentaries demonstrated by the flow of the camera that the demonstrators were far away from the Chavistas and they were shooting in response to sniper fire against them.

If snipers were responsible for the 15-20 killings (of both Chavistas and opposition demonstrators) that justified the 2002 coup, is there any reason to doubt that the unidentified individuals who are attacking demonstrators are acting on behalf of sectors of the opposition?

3. The violence that has rocked Venezuela during the past two weeks has targeted public buildings, such as the headquarters of the attorney-general, the public television Channel 8, the state-owned Banco de Venezuela, the house of the Chavista governor of Tachira, trucks of the state grocery store chain PDVAL, and dozens of metro buses in Caracas.

4. None of the opposition leaders have explicitly condemned the opposition-promoted violence. Opposition mayors in Caracas and elsewhere have refrained from using their police force to contain the violence.

5. The so-called “peaceful” demonstrators engage in disruptions by closing key avenues in a bid to paralyse transportation. Where I live, on the main drag between the twin cities of Barcelona and Puerto La Cruz, the demonstrators occupy two of the three lanes on both sides, causing traffic to back up for miles. A number of tragedies have been reported of people in an emergency unable to make it to a hospital or clinic on time.

6. The term “salida”, which has become a main slogan of the protesters, implies regime change. The opposition is not calling for a constitutional solution, in which Maduro resigns and is replaced by the president of the National Assembly (and leading Chavista) Diosdado Cabello, as the constitution stipulates. Regime change is a radical slogan that implies radical tactics.

7. Political scientist and Venezuelan specialist David Smilde of the University of Georgia, who is not pro-Chavista but rather evenhanded in his analyses, points out the Venezuelan government has nothing to gain by the violence.

8. The government has nothing to gain by the violence because the media is largely on the side of the opposition and present a picture of the violence that directly and indirectly blames the government. Consider the following front page article ijn the February 20 El Universal titled “Capital City Suffers Night Violence”, one of Venezuela’s major newspapers: “Last night, the National Guard and National Police attacked almost simultaneously different demonstrations that were taking place in distinct areas of the capital city.

“In the confrontations there was gunshot [and] tear gas while people banged on pots and pans from their windows (opposing the government).”

9. The Venezuelan government has shown great restraint in the context of opposition-promoted violence and disruption. In nearly any other country in the world, the disruption of traffic in major cities throughout the country would have resulted in mass arrests.

10. Governments, particularly undemocratic ones, which lack active popular support and completely control the media use repression against dissidents. This is not the case in Venezuela. None of the non-state channels and newspapers (that the vast majority of Venezuelans get their news from) supports the government and most of them are ardently anti-government.

Furthermore, unlike governments that use massive repression (such as Egypt under Mubarak), the Chavista government and movement has a greater mobilisation capacity, particularly among the popular sectors of the population, than the opposition. As Smilde says, the use of violence by the government makes absolutely no sense.

[Professor Steve Ellner has taught at the Universidad de Oriente in Puerto La Cruz, Venezuela, since 1977. He is the author of many books on Venezuelan politics.]

View this article online at:  https://www.greenleft.org.au/node/55915

 

Elections in Venezuela and Chile Advance Left Agenda and Latin American Economic Integration

Venezuela and Chile: Election wins advance left agenda

Michele Bachelet won a resounding victory in the Chilean presidential race with 62% of the vote.

By Roger Burbach

January 7, 2014 — América Latina en Movimiento — Elections in Venezuela and Chile in December 2013 molded the political panorama of Latin America for the coming year, providing a new opening for left-leaning governments and the advance of post-neoliberal policies in the region.

In Venezuela, the decisive victory of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in the municipal elections on December 8 gave a boost to the presidency of Nicolas Maduro, enabling him to advance the 21st century socialism of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

After Maduro’s narrow victory margin of 1.5% in the presidential elections in April 2013, the opposition went on the offensive, declaring fraud and waging economic war in an effort to destabilise the country. If the opposition coalition had won in the municipal elections, or even come close in the popular vote, it was poised to mount militant demonstrations to destabilise and topple the Maduro government.

But the PSUV and allied parties won control in over three-fourths of the municipalities and bested the opposition in the popular vote by 49% to 43%. A class war is going on that is focused on control over the economy. With no new electoral challenge until the parliamentary elections in late 2015, Maduro now has the political space to take the initiative in dealing with the country’s economic problems and to pursue a socialist agenda. As Maduro said on the night of the elections, “we are going to deepen the economic offensive to help the working class and protect the middle class… We’re going in with guns blazing, so watch out.”

Chile

At the other end of the continent, Michele Bachelet one week later won a resounding victory in the Chilean presidential race with 62% of the vote. She has put forth an ambitious package of proposals that would increase corporate taxes from 20% to 25%, dramatically expand access to higher education, improve public health care and overhaul the 1980 constitution imposed by the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

Chile has the highest level of income inequality among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s 34 member countries. Within her first hundred days Bachelet has promised to draft legislation to increase tax revenues by about 3 per cent of gross domestic product.

On election night Bachelet proclaimed: “Chile has looked at itself, has looked at its path, its recent history, its wounds, its feats, its unfinished business and this Chile has decided it is the time to start deep transformations. There is no question about it: profits can’t be the motor behind education because education isn’t merchandise and because dreams aren’t a consumer good.”

If these policies are implemented, they would mark a break with the neoliberal paradigm that has been followed by every government since the Pinochet dictatorship, including Bachelet’s during her first presidential term from 2006 to 2010. Like most presidential candidates before they take office, the actual changes may fall far short of what is promised.

But the student uprising and the resurgence of the social movements over the past four years has led to a popular movement in the streets that is unprecedented since the days of Pinochet. Militants on the left have already made it clear that they will challenge her from the first day she takes office. According to Reuters, right after the election hackers posted a message on the education ministry’s website saying: “Mrs President we will take it upon ourselves to make things difficult for you. Next year will be a time of protests.”

Trans-Pacific Partnership

The elections in Venezuela and Chile also set the stage for a challenge to the latest US backed trade initiative, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes a dozen Pacific-rim nations. Ever since Chavez became president, Venezuela has led the way in opposing US efforts to dominate hemispheric trade starting with the Free Trade Area of the Americas that US President George W. Bush launched in April 2001. The FTAA was dealt a fatal blow at the fourth Summit of the Americas in Argentina in 2005 under the leadership of Chavez, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Nestor Kirchner of Argentina, who advocated Latin American integration without the United States.

With the victory in the municipal elections behind him, Maduro was in a position to play a central role 10 days later in the second summit of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and Petrocaribe, a bloc of 18 nations receiving oil at concessionary prices. (Five of the members are overlapping).

ALBA, founded in 2004 by Venezuela and Cuba, is based on the principal of “Fair Trade, not Free Trade”. Now including Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, as well as five Caribbean countries, they met with the members of PetroCaribe, a concessionary oil trading arrangement to put forth a program to create a “special complementary economic zone” between the member countries of both groups to eradicate poverty in the region.

Maduro proclaimed the economic zone “is a special plan … in order to continue advancing the food security and sovereignty of our peoples, and to share investments, experiences, and actions that promote [agricultural] development”. The action plan to implement the proposal, includes cooperation with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. An executive committee to coordinate the regional plan will be set up in Ecuador.

Maduro will take the document for the creation of a complementary economic zone to the January meeting of Mercosur in Caracas “to advance in the great zone Mercosur-PetroCaribe-ALBA”. In all these economic and trade endeavours Venezuela plays a strategic geo-economic role. It is Latin America’s largest oil producer, and it is located on the southern flank of the Caribean basin and on the northern end of South American continent.

Venezuela is already a member of Mercosur along with Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay while Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Guyana, Ecuador, Peru and Suriname are associate members. As Bolivia’s President Evo Morales said at the conclusion of the ALBA-PetroCaribe summit, “We should never stop strengthening our integration, the integration of anti-imperialist countries.”

Latin American integration

A key question is what role will Chile led by Bachelet play in the growing movement for Latin American integration. Under Bachelet’s billionaire predecessor, Sebastian Pinera, Chile has been involved in setting up the US led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and is a founding member of the Pacific Alliance, a trade and investment group that includes Columbia, Peru and Mexico.

Bachelet has given signs that a pursuit of these trade groupings alone is not in Chile’s interest and that she intends to breach the Pacific versus the Atlantic/Caribbean divide. Her campaign manifesto stated: “Chile has lost presence in the region, its relations with its neighbors are problematic, a commercial vision has been imposed on our Latin American links.”

She is particularly interested in closer relations with Brazil, where she identities with Dilma Rousseff, who also forged her political identity as a young clandestine activist who was jailed and tortured under a repressive dictatorship. It is notable that in 2008 during her last presidential term, Bachelet convened an emergency session of UNASUR the Union of South American Nations, to support Evo Morales against a right wing “civic coup” attempt that received direct material support from the US embassy.

It is of course impossible to predict where Bachelet will wind up in the growing continental divide. And her commitment to the Pacific Alliance and to TPP may undermine domestic efforts to break with neoliberalism.

In Venezuela, Maduro faces daunting economic problems as he tries to bring inflation and the black market foreign exchange rate under control, while dealing with serious corruption problems in and outside of the government.

However, the December municipal elections have opened up a space for Maduro to deal with these issues in the coming year while playing a leadership role in advancing Latin American integration in opposition to US initiatives

The Other September 11: The Legacy of Chilean Socialism and Salvador Allende

The Other September 11: The Legacy of Chilean Socialism and Salvador Allende

September 11, 2013

The coup d’etat by General Augusto Pinochet in Chile on September 11, 1973 transformed the history of socialism. Almost a thousand days before, Salvador Allende and the Popular Unity coalition had taken office promising a “Chilean Road to Socialism” based on democratic principles. The government launched an agrarian reform program, recognized the right of workers to take over factories and run them collectively, took control of most of the country’s banks, and expropriated multinational corporations like Kennecott and ITT, all within the framework of the Chilean constitution.

From the start most of the Chilean business clans backed by the U.S. government and the multinational corporations moved to undermine and destroy this experiment in democratic socialism. As Richard Nixon’s national security adviser Henry Kissinger declared: “I don’t see why we need to stand idly by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its own people.” By mid-1973 it was clear to many in Chile, including myself, that the democratic institutions would not hold as the opposition began to openly call on the military to violently overthrow the government. On the left, some argued that the existing constitutional system and many democratic liberties had to be suspended and that it was necessary for workers and the popular classes to unite with loyalist sectors of the military to establish a new political regime. (1)

But one man, Salvador Allende, refused to violate the democratic institutions that brought him and the Popular Unity coalition to power. He was caught in a bitter dilemma: If he seized power and ruled by decree he would be violating the democratic principles he believed in, and yet, by not abandoning those principles he risked subjecting the country to rule by reactionary forces and the destruction of the nascent socialist society.

rogerAuthentic democratic socialism died with Allende in La Moneda, the presidential palace of Chile. His quest for a peaceful democratic transition to socialism proved to be a contradiction in terms. The overthrow of the Popular Unity government meant there was no viable alternative to the existing state socialist model delineated by the Soviet Union. And in Latin America progressive governments like those in Argentina and Uruguay fell under the sway of right wing repressive regimes, joining Brazil where the military had seized power in 1964. Cuba once again stood alone in the Americas. Fidel Castro had been infatuated by the Chilean road to socialism, spending 25 days there on a state visit in late 1971, exchanging views and holding conversations about the different paths to socialism. After the coup, Cuba was compelled to rely even more on the Soviet Union and the Eastern European bloc nations for its survival.
In Nicaragua where the Somoza family had ruled for decades, the human rights movement took root as the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) fought a guerrilla war against the regime. President Jimmy Carter, who assumed office in 1977 proclaiming that human rights was the “soul” of his administration’s foreign policy, tried to negotiate a transition that would preserve Somocismo without Somoza. This meant that the regime’s structures, particularly the military would remain intact. But Anastascio Somoza refused to abandon power, and Carter was compelled to suspend military and economic assistance to the regime.Out of the ashes of defeat, a concept of a different world began to take hold. In Chile a human rights movement emerged that drew broad support from diverse sectors of Chilean society. It soon forged a network with international human rights organizations, including many in other countries that were also confronting brutal dictatorships. The rise of the human rights movement proved to be a harbinger of a new global movement that would sink deep roots in civil society over the coming decades.(2)

On July 19, 1979, less than six years after the fall of Allende, the FSLN marched into Managua as Somoza fled the country from his private airport. The Chilean experience was very much in the minds of the new revolutionary leadership. Militants of the MIR, the Left Revolutionary Movement of Chile, had fought in the southern front with FSLN combatants led by Humberto Ortega. Now in power, it was clear that Somoza’s army, the National Guard, had to be abolished, as the FSLN constructed the Sandinista Popular Army.

1977

Other lessons were drawn from the Chilean experience. Hoping to garner multi-class support, the Sandinistas formed a broad front government, the Junta of National Reconstruction, that included business interests that had opposed Somoza. The platform of the Sandinistas also called for a mixed economy. There would be no rapid transition to a socialist economy as private enterprise would co-exist with a state sector.

Like the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende, the Sandinistas were committed to democratic rule. In 1984 open elections were held that the Sandinistas resoundingly won with Daniel Ortega becoming president. But as in Chile, the U.S. government, now with Ronald Reagan as president, refused to accept the results. Even before the elections, the CIA had begun recruiting elements of Somoza’s National Guard to wage a war against the Sandinistas.

The “Contras”, as they were called, did not win a major victory nor did they occupy a significant population center. But they did inflict enormous pain and suffering on the Nicaraguan people, often inflicting atrocities on remote villages. The war also devastated the economy, and it became increasingly similar to Chile’s under Allende as the business class turned against the government, hyper-inflation took hold, and there were shortages of basic commodities from toilet paper to rice and light bulbs.

By 1989, the Sandinistas faced an impasse. The Contras had largely been defeated on the battlefield, but the Reagan administration continued to support them and there was no end in sight for the low-grade, protracted war of attrition. Daniel Ortega, in an effort to secure peace, engaged in negotiations with other Central American nations and ultimately with the Contras that led to early elections in 1990.

On February 25, the day of balloting, I flew to Managua, expecting to celebrate a victory with my friends who had fought so hard for the Sandinista revolution for the past decade. We were shocked when the results rolled in. Violeta Barrios de Chamorro defeated Daniel Ortega with 54% of the vote. The next day as I was sitting in front of a friend’s house a woman vendor selling tamales passed by sobbing. I asked her what was wrong, and she said, “Daniel will no longer be my president.” After exchanging a few more words, I queried her about who she had voted for: She replied, “Violeta, because I want my son in the Sandinista army to come home alive.” She understood better than any political analyst that if the Sandinistas remained in power, the United States would continue to inflict destruction on Nicaragua in one form or another.

The Sandinista electoral defeat concurred with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991. State socialism was crumbling. Cuba found itself isolated in the hemisphere and devoid of its international allies. The country entered a “special period” of severe economic austerity. In this void, neoliberalism, the economic doctrine that had first been implanted in Chile under Pinochet, consolidated its hold on Latin America.

In March 1990, Pinochet, after loosing a plebiscite on his continued rule, turned the presidential sash over to Patricio Aylwin, a Christian Democrat who was part of a political coalition called the Concertación. In 1973 Aylwin had supported the coup. Socialism was not on the agenda as the Concertación made a pact with Pinochet that allowed him to remain in command of the armed forces until 1998, whereupon he would become a senator for life. Just as important, neoliberalism remained the economic doctrine of the country.

Wherever one looked, socialism was moribund. But history often brings forth new unexpected social actors in the most desperate moments. A wave of social movements and organizations led by peasants and indigenous groups emerged in the rural areas of Latin America as state socialism was collapsing. By the mid-1990s they had assumed the lead in challenging the neoliberal order, particularly in Ecuador, Mexico, Bolivia, and Brazil. These new organizations were generally more democratic and participatory than the class-based organizations that traditional Marxist political parties had set up in rural areas in previous decades.

As the 1990s drew to a close and the new millennium opened, social struggles and popular rebellions erupted primarily in the cities, but often overlapping with existing rural-based struggles. The urban organizations varied greatly, some with a distinct class basis and others having a multi-class composition.

Starting in 1999 with Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, a string of left-leaning governments came to power in Latin America. These governments largely owed their ascendancy to the social movements. For the first time since the 1980s the discussion of socialism began to enter the public discourse. On January 30, 2005 Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez addressed the fifth annual gathering of the World Social Forum, declaring: “It is necessary to transcend capitalism…through socialism, true socialism with equality and justice.”(3) The roaring crowd of 15,000 at the Gigantinho stadium in Porto Alegre, Brazil heard Chávez go on to say: “We have to re-invent socialism. It can’t be the kind of socialism that we saw in the Soviet Union, but it will emerge as we develop new systems that are built on cooperation, not competition.” This marked what many refer to as the inception of what Chávez called “twenty-first century socialism.”

In Ecuador and Bolivia the socialist banner began to unfurl. The quest for socialism is now most advanced politically and economically in Venezuela, while in Ecuador the concept of socialism is only infrequently raised in public discourse, owing in part to the wide breach between the social movements and Correa’s self-proclaimed citizens’ revolution. Bolivia occupies a middle ground in which innovative discussions are taking place within and between the government and social movements that relate socialism to the indigenous concept of buen vivir.

1978

Twenty-first century socialism is an inextricable part of the history that flows from the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende. It inspired and informed the leaders who govern today. Like Allende, they are deeply committed to democratic procedures. During the 14 years of Hugo Chávez’s presidency there were 16 elections or referendums, while during the seven years of Evo Morales there have been seven, and during Rafael Correa’s six years there have also been seven. They have also learned from the Chilean experience the importance of opening up the legal system by convening constituent assemblies to draft new constitutions that reflect the popular interests of their societies rather than those of the traditional oligarchs and elites.

The Chilean popular movement is in turn learning from these new experiments in socialism. As the Chilean magazine Punto Final editorializes in its special edition on the 40th anniversary of the coup: “Only a democratic constitution, the product of a constituent assembly approved by the people will permit us to retake the path of liberation that was interrupted when La Moneda went up in flames.”(4) In reference to the Concertación politicians who opportunistically governed the country for two decades under Pinochet’s constitution, the editorial declares: “President Salvador Allende Gossens bequeathed the Chilean left a lesson of being consequential and personally moral that should not be forgotten.” It adds, these values are essential “for the advance of a socialist and democratic left that wants to construct a society based on citizen participation, social justice, and the integration of the peoples of Latin America.” Allende’s heroic stand will inspire those who aspire to a new socialist utopia for generations to come.

1. This article draws on my experiences in Chile from 1971-73 as well as my book. The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice.  London: Zed Books,, 2003.

2. NACLA was part of this movement, producing a number of studies and reports on the Chilean dictatorship and the human rights movement in Latin America. See for example Amalia Bertoli, Roger Burbach, David Hathaway, Robert High, and Eugene Kelly, “Carter and the Generals.”  NACLA Report on the Americas, Vol. 13, No.2, March/April, 1979.

3. Cleto A. Sojo, “Venezuela’s Chávez closes World Social Forum with call to transcend capitalism.”Venezuela Analysis, 31 January, 2005. venezuelanalysis.coBurbm/print/907.

4. “Allende y su Leccion.” Punto Final, Edition No. 789 6 September – 26 September, 2013.  Www.puntofinal.cl


Roger Burbach is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) based in Berkeley, CA. He is the co-author with Michael Fox and Fred Fuentes of: Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First-Century Socialism, Zed Books, London, 2013. See: www.futuresocialism.org

This article appears on http://nacla.org/blog/2013/9/11/other-september-11-legacy-chilean-socialism-and-salvador-allende

Or DOWNLOAD it here: The Other September 11

An Article about Egypt by one of our authors

Meet General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, General Augusto Pinochet’s Heir Apparent in Egypt

By Roger Burbach

Last July 4, the day after the military coup in Egypt that toppled President Mohamed Morsi, the Wall Street Journal editorialized, “Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy.” It appears the business newspaper is getting its wish.

The early actions of the de facto leader of the coup, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are hauntingly like those of Pinochet. The brutal repression, with a civilian death toll surpassing a thousand, the proclamation of a curfew in Egypt’s main cities, the jailing and murder of journalists, the unleashing of the security forces, the round up of untold numbers of the opposition, and the demonizing and defamation of its opponents–these actions and others indicate that the supposed “transition to democracy” could take a long time in Egypt, perhaps even rivaling Pinochet’s seventeen years in power.

Pinochet’s coup on September 11, 1973 destroyed popular aspirations for a democratic socialist revolution. Today as Adam Shatz notes in Egypt’s Counter Revolution, “Cairo, the capital of revolutionary hope two years ago, is now its burial ground.” Both coups and their aftermath horrified much of the world and set the historic clock backwards.

Like Pinochet, al-Sisi often dons dark sun glasses and is seemingly inscrutable as he scowls at the cameras and the public. More importantly al-Sisi is cold and calculating in the mold of Pinochet. Both generals were appointed Ministers of Defense by the very civilian presidents they overthrew. Presidents Mohamed Morsi of Egypt and Salvador Allende of Chile thought they could trust their respective defense ministers to hold back the more reactionary sectors in the military. But such was not the case as they conspired with their fellow military officers to carry out the coups.

image of General                al-Sisi and President Morsi

And once in power, both generals viewed with disdain the civilian forces that had backed their seizures of power. In Chile, Pinochet turned on the Christian Democratic party, imprisoning rank and file members that dared to question the regime’s actions, and attempting to assassinate one of its leaders. In Egypt it can be argued that the betrayal runs even deeper as General al-Sisi is turning his back on the the entire secular, pro-democratic movement that brought down the regime of Hosni Mubarak in February, 2011, and then mobilized en masse on June 30, 2013 to precipitate the final crisis of the Morsi government.

On August 14 when the army and security forces massacred over 600 civilians, the Nobel Laureate and Interim Vice-President Mohamed ElBaradei, resigned, signaling that the secular democratic forces had no real role in the new government. Days later, ElBaradei was placed under investigation, facing possible charges of “betraying the public trust” for resigning from his post.

With the release of Hosni Mubarak from prison on August 22, Gen. al-Sisi is aligning his government with what is known as the Felool, the remnants of the Mubarak regime that includes the old politicians, business interests, the corrupt judges and Egyptian military officers. As Christopher Dickey and Mike Giglio point out in an article in the Daily Beast/Newsweek, after the Middle Eastern war of 1973, “The Army where al-Sisi made his career became less a war machine than a rigged slot machine that paid out rich dividends for its loyal officers and its American suppliers. … They have their own apartments, their own clubs, their own schools and stores. The Army has its own manufacturing empire and a vast construction business that frequently shuts out the private sector with little or no public accountability.” General Pinochet, his family and select associates also built up their own fortunes, but they pale in comparison to the loot accumulated by the military and the Felool.

Both generals had their good and bad patches with the United States. General Pinochet spent time in the United States, earning an appointment to a military mission to Washington D.C. in the mid-1950s, and then going on a prolonged tour of the United States in 1959, visiting military bases and institutions. The Nixon administration and the CIA collaborated with him in the 1973 coup but Pinochet’s human rights violations compelled President Carter to cut military and economic assistance.

General al-Sisi attended the US Army War College in Pennsylvania in 2006. This was in the midst of the Iraqi war, when it appeared the United States was loosing control of the region. Al-Sisi and other Arab military officers reportedly kept their own council at the college, determined to develop their own positions and policies in the conflict ridden Middle East.

Today al-Sisi is turning on the United States because of its cancellation of joint military exercises and its threat to suspend $1.3 billion in military assistance. He denounced the Obama administration’s early backing of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, telling The Washington Post on August 3: “You turned your back on the Egyptians, and they won’t forget that.”

In its call for a Pinochet-like figure to lead Egypt, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed the new military rulers should employ “free market reformers.” It is here where the US and al-Sisi along with the Felool may find common ground if the regime succeeds in imposing its iron-handed rule on Egypt. We can expect little from the Obama administration other than rhetoric and token measures. Sooner rather than later it will work out a modus viviendi with al-Sisi and go on with business as usual.

In the 2000s the IMF and the World Bank along with the George W. Bush administration worked assiduously with Mubarak to open the country up to international trade and investment. The World Bank in September 2009 named Egypt one of “the world’s 10 most active reformers,” as it had done in four previous years. Less than eighteen months later, the Mubarak regime fell before a popular uprising.

It is impossible to predict where Egypt is headed. One thing is clear: Al-Sisi is a bloody tyrant bent on holding power indefinitely. Only the forging of a broad coalition of the Muslim Brotherhood and the secular forces that toppled Mubarak can stop the slide into the human tragedy that afflicted Chile for seventeen long dark years under Pinochet.
___________
Roger Burbach is the director of the Center for the Study of the Americas (CENSA) based in Berkeley, CA. He is the co-author with Michael Fox and Federico Fuentes of Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First-Century Socialism, published by Zed Books. For more on the book see: http://futuresocialism.org

 

Letter to Edward Snowden

Open Letter to Edward Snowden

Ten Reasons Why You Should Beat It to Venezuela

From Roger Burbach

It is understandable that you are requesting temporary asylum in Russia, given the determination of President Obama to mount an international crusade to apprehend you and throw you in prison. But here are ten reasons why it is in your interest, and the world’s, to find a route to Venezuela as soon as possible.

1. President Nicolas Maduro is a man you can rely on to assist you in your odyssey. He is one of your earliest champions on the international scene and understands the principles that drive you to challenge the US national security state. On June 26 he declared: “What has this young man done? He divulged documents that the United States spies on the entire world; they listen to anyone’s telephone, they over see the Internet around the globe, and they monitor all electronic mail….” The United States “violates international laws of self-determination and sovereignty,” … Snowden “hasn’t planted any bombs, hasn’t assassinated anyone, hasn’t robbed anyone, he simply one day looked in the mirror and said: ‘What am I doing to the world, this should not be.’ … He is part of the rebellion of North American youth that is moving forward in a rebellion of consciousness, of ethics.”

2. Maduro and Venezuela are facing the same hostile forces that you are. Aside from the US government led by President Obama (who appears to have developed a personal vendetta against you) the US main stream media, including much of the liberal press, have maligned and lied about you and Maduro. Innumerable distortions about both of you have been carried in the New York Times, the newspaper that carries “all the news that’s fit to print.” Even National Public Radio has joined in the fray. On the day of your conference in the Moscow airport, an NPR news commentator asserted that you had “lauded Russia’s human rights record,” which is not true as we hear on the videos that came out of the conference. The New York Review of Books has yet to weigh in on you, but we should be prepared for the worst as one of it authors did a hack job on Maduro in early May.

3. You will encounter an outpouring of support in Latin America. Newspapers and journals up and down the Americas, from Santiago, Chile and Buenos Aires, Argentina to San Jose, Costa Rica and Mexico City have taken up your cause and excoriated the Obama administration.

On July 12, the day of your conference at the Moscow airport, Mercosur, the largest economic bloc of nations in Latin America met in Montevideo, Uruguay and issued a statement defending your right to asylum in their countries: “We repudiate any activity that could undermine the authority of States to grant and fully implement the right of asylum,” the statement said. “We reject any attempt in pressuring, harassment or criminalization of a State over a country’s sovereign right to grant asylum.”

Outraged by the documents you released revealing massive spying and intelligence gathering by the National Security Agency in Latin America, Mercosur’s final declaration stated: “We emphatically reject the interception of telecommunications and espionage actions in our nations, as they constitute a violation of human rights, of the right of our citizens to privacy and information. It’s unacceptable behavior that breaches our sovereignty and harms relations between nations.”

4. In Venezuela you would witness a popular struggle to construct a socialist society, and would be able to visit Bolivia and Ecuador, where similar and yet different paths are being taken in pursuit of a 21st-century utopia. In Caracas you will experience shortages (from toilet paper to electricity) because the Venezuelan economy is in transition. I witnessed similar difficulties during the last democratic transition to socialism in the hemisphere, that of Salvador Allende and the Popular Unity government in Chile from 1970 to 1973. As is now well documented, the CIA and the local bourgeoisie conspired to destabilize the economy, overthrew Allende and imposed the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet for seventeen long dark years. Hopefully your generation’s engagement around the Americas can help prevent a similar tragedy in Venezuela or elsewhere in Latin America.

5. Although you and Maduro are of distinct class backgrounds—he is working class and you are middle class–did you know that you and Maduro are both interested in eastern philosophies? According to Wikipedia you practice the martial arts and are a self-declared Buddhist, interests you apparently nurtured while you worked as an undercover CIA agent as a State Department officer at the US embassy in Japan. Maduro is interested in eastern teachings as well, following the thoughts and practices of eastern leaders particularly those of Satya Sai Baba who is renown for having supported a variety of free educational institutions, hospitals and charitable works in over 166 countries. Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, visited him in Puttaparthi, India in 2005.

You might even discover some mutual interests in music, given that Maduro in his youth played guitar in a rock band called Enigma. To add to his complexity, Maduro’s paternal grandparents are Sephardic Jews who converted to Catholicism.

6. In Caracas you would have access to one of the better Internet grids in the global south and this would facilitate the use of your talents to set up an international non-profit center. You might want to host open seminars or workshops, inviting university educators, business executives and government ministers to learn about how to deal with US surveillance as well as other predators on the Internet. Others like me, might want to know your thoughts about how we can use the Internet to our advantage and stop the incipient emergence of an Orwellian world.

7. Last year an oceanic fiber optic cable was completed that links Venezuela to Santiago de Cuba. I am sure that your skills would be useful in advising both countries on how to best use the cable and the Internet for the benefit of their peoples, given that Cuba has dramatically changed its Internet policy, throwing it open to public access. I suspect you would concur with Vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canal, the probable successor to Raul Castro, who pointed out in May the challenges presented by the Internet:

“Today, with the development of information technologies; today, with the development of social networks; today, with the development of computers and the Internet, to prohibit something is nearly an impossible chimera. It makes no sense. Today, news from all sources, from good ones and from bad ones, those that are manipulated, and those that are true, and those that are half-truths, all circulate on the web and reach people and those people are aware of them.”

8. Caracas is only three and a quarter hours from Miami via commercial air carrier. As you have probably heard many times, “Cuba is only ninety miles from the United States.” Your relative proximity, much like that of Fidel Castro, would drive the National Security Agency nuts for years and perhaps decades, albeit on a lesser scale, given that you don’t aspire to state power.

9. You could be in touch with your family and friends. Perhaps your last girl friend in Hawaii would come to visit. You might have to set up a personal housing compound to entertain and house all of them. Many from the US would make a pilgrimage to shake your hand and talk to you. I might even be one of those who appear at your doorstep.

10. Lastly you should enjoy the great geographic vistas Venezuela offers its peoples and tourists alike. It has crystal clear beaches,  rain-forests, breathtaking mountains and plains, and the tallest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls.

I will not recommend any tour guides, but in lieu of posting my by-line at the end of this letter, and to introduce you to the political terrain of Latin America, I humbly suggest you ask your favorite book store in the Moscow airport if it can order a book I co-authored with Michael Fox and Federico Fuentes, Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First Century Socialism. Hopefully it won’t be intercepted by air or land as it is transported from Zed Books in London to Moscow.

Sincerely,

Roger Burbach
July 15, 2013

http://futuresocialism.org

Brazil: Between Challenging Hegemony and Embracing It

In light of recent events in Brazil, we are sending you the introduction to the chapter, “Brazil: Between Challenging Hegemony and Embracing It,” published in: Latin America’s Turbulent Transitions: The Future of Twenty-First-Century Socialism. To get a copy of the book and read the entire chapter, go to http://futuresocialism.org/order/

‘We – the Workers’ Party – know that the world is headed toward socialism,’ the Brazilian Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers’ Party) president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told a packed crowd at the party’s first national convention. ‘The big question is: Which socialism?’

‘The socialism that we want will be defined by all of the people, as a concrete demand of the grassroots struggles,’ Lula continued. ‘We want a society in which men are valued and where no one has the right to exploit the work of anyone else. A society in which everyone has equal opportunity to realize their potential and aspirations.’

The year was 1981. Despite the strength of the socialist project in Cuba and the revolutionary victory in Nicaragua, Lula and the PT were not willing to quickly define their socialist vision based on what had been implemented elsewhere. That was the job of ‘the people,’ they said. Clearly impacted by a decade and a half of repressive military rule, the founders of the new party had, in 1979, written into their founding charter a key point that would define the goals of the fledg- ling organization for years to come: ‘There is no socialism without democracy, nor democracy without socialism.’

It was through elections, and not weapons, that the PT planned to democratize Brazil, take power, and carry out the working-class revolution for socialism so dreamed of during the dark years of the dictatorship. They were fairly successful. In Brazil’s first open elections, in 1989, Lula lost the presidential election by less than 6 percent. In local elections, thirty-six PT mayors were elected across the coun- try, and began to implement radical programs, such as participatory budgeting, to involve the local community in public decision-making.

At a time when the formal socialist countries were crumbling across the globe, the PT was growing and consolidating.

‘The PT is without question the largest explicitly socialist political party in South America, and its growth, particularly in the almost pre- capitalist countryside, is unprecedented in the region,’ wrote Brazilian political scientist Emir Sader and journalist Ken Silverstein in 1991. ‘Whatever the difficulty in labeling the party, the PT’s coalition of forces represents a Brazilian “New Left,” and is certainly the most hopeful model for democratic socialism anywhere in South America.’ The PT remained an inspiration for movements and organizers across the region, as the party continued to grow and gain increasing political power. Lula finally won the presidency on 27 October 2002, with over 60 percent of the vote. His successor and former chief of staff Dilma Rousseff was elected and followed in his footsteps on
1 January 2011.

Despite their radical history, Presidents Lula and Rousseff have not joined Chávez, Morales, and Correa in their calls for twenty-first- century socialism. In fact, in order to win the 2002 presidential elec- tions Lula dropped the red star and the word ‘socialist’ from campaign materials, and promised investors that he would respect the country’s financial contracts and obligations. During his second presidential term, Lula went so far as to tell a group of businessmen that he was too old to be leftist.

Internationally, however, Brazil under Lula and Rousseff has played a key role in supporting the more radical left governments and confronting US hegemony both in the region and abroad.

At the 2005 Fourth Summit of the Americas in Mar de Plata, Argen- tina, Lula helped to unite the region against the US-backed FTAA. While the fiery rhetoric from Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez caught the headlines, the weight of the Brazilian decision was a deal-breaker. No hemispheric-wide trade group could exist without Brazil – by far the largest country and most important economy in Latin America. Brazil’s population of almost two hundred million residents equals nearly half of the entire South American population, and its GDP (the sixth-largest in the world) dwarfs all the rest of South America combined.
The other MERCOSUR countries at the time (Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay) stood together beside Venezuela and Brazil in opposition to the US-backed pact. It was a defining moment for the region. Latin America’s left-leaning countries were capable of blocking US economic interests that had gone relatively unchecked for decades.

For Brazil, it marked a before and after, breaking with a pro-US foreign policy approach that had stood for more than a century. Since then, Lula and Rousseff have promoted regional integration and challenged US hegemony, sheltering the deposed democratically elected Honduran president Manuel Zelaya in its embassy in Tegucigalpa, brokering a nuclear deal between Turkey and Iran that angered the Obama administration, and calling for the United States to lift its blockade on Cuba. Domestically, however, PT policies have been far from groundbreaking. They have decreased inequality by expanding a series of social welfare programs for the poor. But they have also embraced financial capital, multinational corporations, and a booming agro-industry completely at odds with the PT’s former companions, Brazil’s MST, the largest social movement in the Americas.

Brazil under the PT hasn’t tried to significantly alter the status quo, like Venezuela, Bolivia or Ecuador. The Brazilian governments of Lula and Rousseff haven’t spoken openly of socialism, nor have they tried to hold a constitutional assembly to revamp the country’s laws from the ground up, but as the leaders of the regional economic powerhouse, they have been willing to stand up for the countries that did. This fact has been essential in the region’s ability to organize and unite vis-à-vis the United States.

As Richard Nixon remarked in 1971, ‘As Brazil goes, so will go the rest of that Latin American Continent.’ Brazil, it seems, was willing to challenge hegemony, while also perhaps embracing it…….

Open letter to President Dilma Rousseff from Brazil’s social movements

Open letter to President Dilma Rousseff from Brazil’s social movements

[NOTE: In the midst of the largest street demonstrations Brazil has seen in decades, some of the country’s most important social movements – including the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), the Unified Workers’ Central (CUT), and the National Union of Students (UNE) – sent the following open letter to Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff on June 20. For some important background to understanding the current situation see the chapter “Brazil: Between challenging hegemony and embracing it” in the book. Translation by Federico Fuentes]

This week, Brazil has witnessed mobilisations across 15 capital cities and 100s of other cities. We are in agreement with the statements coming out of these protests, which affirm the importance of these mobilisations for Brazilian democracy, because we are conscious of the fact that the changes we need in this country will come through popular mobilization.

More than a conjectural phenomenon, the recent mobilisations are a sign of the gradual renewal of the capacity for popular struggle. It was this popular resistance that paved the way for the electoral results of 2002, 2006 and 2010. Our people, not satisfied by neoliberal measures, voted for a different project. In order to implement this project, it was necessary to confront great resistance, primarily from rentist capital and neoliberal sectors that continue to have a lot of weight in society.

But it was also necessary to confront the limits imposed by last minute allies, an internal bourgeoisie who in challenging government policies impeded the realization of structural reforms, as is the case in the areas of urban reform and public transport
The international crisis has blocked growth, and with it the continuity of the project pushed by this broad front that, until now, has sustained the government.

The recent mobilisations are being carried out by a diverse cross section of youth who, for the first time, are participating in mobilisations. This process educates its participants, allowing them to understand the necessity of confronting those that are holding back Brazil from moving forward in this process of democratization of wealth, of access to health, education, land, culture, political participation, and the media.

Conservative sectors within society are trying to dispute the significance of these mobilisations. The media is trying to portray the movement as anti-Dilma, as against corrupt politicians, against the wasting of public money and other demands that would impose the return of neoliberalism. We believe that there are many demands, just as there are many opinions and visions of the world present in society. We are dealing with a cry of indignation from a people historically excluded from national political life and accustomed to seeing politics as something that is damaging to society.

Given all this, President, we write to you to express our position in support of policies that guarantee the reduction of public transport fares by reducing the profits of the big companies. We are against the policies of tax exemptions for these companies.

Now is the time for the government to implement these democratic and popular demands, and stimulate the participation and politicization of society. We commit to promoting all types of debates around these issues and we place ourselves at your disposition to also debate them with the government and its institutions.

We propose the urgent convening of a national meeting, involving the participation of state governments, mayoral offices of the main capital cities and representatives of all the social movements. For our part, we are open to dialogue, and believe that this meeting is the only manner of finding a way to confront the grave urban crisis that is affecting our big cities.

The time is right. These are the largest mobilisations that the current generation has seen and other major ones will follow. We hope that the current government decides to govern with the people and not against the people.

Signed
Movimentos da Via CampesinaBrasil, ADERE-MG, AP, Barão de Itararé, CIMI, CMP-MMC/SP, CMS, ColetivoIntervozes, CONEN, Consulta Popular, CTB, CUT, Fetraf, FNDC, FUP, JuventudeKoinonia, Levante Popular da Juventude, MAB, MAM, MCP, MMM, MPA, MST, SENGE/PR, Sindipetro – SP, SINPAF, UBES, UBM, UJS, UNE, UNEGRO

BREAKING NEWS FROM CUBA

The Internet Revolution in Cuba

By Roger Burbach

Cuba never ceases to surprise one. Given that the country has the lowest internet usage in Latin America I came to Havana over two weeks ago determined to harangue whoever I could about the need to open the country to the Internet and the telecommunications age. I told one foreign journalist here I didn’t care if I got thrown out of the country for bad comportment.

On Tuesday May 28 the Cuban government released a major policy statement on the expansion of the public’s use of the internet. During the first week in June, one-hundred-and-eighteen “navigation” centers will be opened up around the country. For the first time anyone can go to these centers and access the world wide web and send and receive email.

Until now access has been limited to education and research centers, the five star hotels, the major medical centers, foreign press agencies and of course government ministries. Most access came through the office work place, with a few of the personal of these agencies able to use the internet at home. The rest of the population had no direct internet access. International email could be sent and received at designated telecommunication centers.

The opening of one-hundred-and-eighteen centers hardly constitutes “mass usage.” But it is the tip of the ice berg. The decree envisions the continual growth of internet facilities, the expanded use of fiber optic cables, and increased imports of telecommunications equipment. The Vice-Minister of Communications, Wilfredo Gonzalez, says Wifi and mobile connectivity as well as home access will eventually be made available, but given the actual infrastructure and financial limitations, the “emphasis is on reaching the largest number of people with the limited resources available.” He reported that the fiber optics cable linking Venezuela to Santiago is operational and will help overcome the US telecommunications blockade by increasing access to the internet, international telephone service as well as global television.

Miguel Diaz-Canal, the new vice president and designated successor of President Raul Castro, is playing a central role in opening the country to the internet. In an address at the closure of a seminar at the Ministry of Education on May 5, he declared:

“Today, with the development of information technologies; today, with the development of social networks; today, with the development of computers and the Internet, to prohibit something is nearly an impossible chimera.

It makes no sense.

Today, news from all sources, from good ones and from bad ones, those that are manipulated, and those that are true, and those that are half-truths, all circulate on the web and reach people and those people are aware of them.

The worst response then, what is it?

Silence.”

-First Vice-President of Cuba,
Miguel Díaz-Canel, May 5, 2013

CLICK HERE To read the Full Interview (IN SPANISH) with Cuba’s Vice-Minister of Communication regarding Cuba’s new Internet Policies

Vice-President Miguel Díaz-Canel